09 Feb

For Portland, a royal road to Riyadh

We have a king.

Well, almost and sort of.

In the new royal arrangement in Saudi Arabia, second in the line of succession – deputy crown prince, or Joe Biden once removed – is Mohammed bin Nayef, 55, the interior minister. Of thousands of years of leaders on the Arabian peninsula, going back to the queen of Sheba, he will be the first to have attended Lewis & Clark.

Naturally, we’re very excited.

It’s been a while since Southwest Portland has produced an absolute monarch.

Even Phil Knight grew up on the east side.

Now, we have a royal line that runs right up Terwilliger.

There might be a question about the strength of our ties to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. After all, the most evident American royal connection is to the British monarchy, which provides a steady stream of People magazine covers. Prince George, at two years old, has already been on more magazine covers than the entire U.S. Senate. The British monarchy, after all, used to rule this country – with a particular claim on Oregon – and they come over for frequent state visits, when we get very sentimental and they seem very relieved.

But last month, our real royal allegiance became clear.

The funeral for Saudi King Abdullah – whose death opened up the royal palace to Lewis & Clark – brought to Saudi Arabia President and Michelle Obama (who cut short a visit to India, although they really wanted to see the Taj Mahal), the secretary of state, the national security advisor, the CIA director, Sen. John McCain, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and enough American dignitaries to open the World Series, or maybe the Iowa State Fair. It was way beyond the U.S. delegation for any British royal occasion – including the London Olympics and Prince William’s bachelor party – making it clear where America’s strongest royal ties now run.

And that Lewis & Clark has hit the jackpot. Admittedly, the depth of Prince Mohammed’s experience at the college isn’t entirely clear. Greg Caldwell, who was associate dean of students at the time, told The Oregonian he remembered the prince as getting along well with other students and giving them rides in his car.

Which is nice, but it’s how people remember Jerry from the fraternity house, not the future master of one-fifth of the planet’s known petroleum reserves.

And nobody’s said whether the prince contributes to the alumni fund, although he’s clearly in a position to help Lewis & Clark win both a Nobel Prize and the Rose Bowl. Saudi Arabia, after all, currently has foreign currency reserves of $750 billion, or 25 Harvards.

There may be a small complication. The New York Times and The Washington Post both reported that the prince graduated from Lewis & Clark, but over last weekend the college checked its records and revealed that he didn’t. Misinformation about academic records have gotten people bounced as U.S. senator and Notre Dame football coach, but it’s not clear if it would interfere with the Saudi royal succession.

But the real question is, how does the future king remember Portland? Does he have a 3,000-foot TV antenna so he can watch “Portlandia”? Has he laid out bike paths through the desert of the Empty Quarter? Does he complain that there are no good places in Saudi Arabia for brunch?

He was here in the late ’70s. Does he bore the other 7,000 Saudi royals by constantly talking about how if Bill Walton hadn’t hurt his foot, the Trail Blazers would have been a dynasty?

Information control in Saudi Arabia is too tight for us to know whether the future king plans to cover the Middle East with food carts, or is considering whether the ideal fabric for the Arabian autumn might be Gore-tex. But we have reason to think that somebody in the country – or as it’s more often called, The Kingdom – has been speaking well of Portland; Scott Graham, interim dean of the Portland State business school, recently told the Portland Tribune that PSU has more Saudi students than any other American university.

Seattle may have trips to the Super Bowl, but Portland has what you might call a pipeline to Saudi Arabia.

The future of the relationship has broad possibilities. But at least one point is clear:
When Prince Mohammad bin Nayef, Lewis & Clark ex-’81, becomes king of Saudi Arabia, there will be an obvious choice for grand marshal of the Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade.

Until then, we can at least start working on a Sister City in Riyadh.

NOTE: Thos column appeared in The Sunday Oregonian, 12/8/15.

09 Feb

Sick leave can prevent servings of sickness

Here’s the first thing you want to think about when considering paid sick leave:
How sick do you want the cook making your cheese omelet to be?

Oregon rightly prides itself on its restaurant and food scene. But eighty-three percent of food and restaurant workers have no paid sick time off, which can cause them to add some extra ingredients.

Paid sick leave, which half of Oregon workers don’t have, isn’t just an employee benefit. It’s a public health issue, because workers who have to come to work when they’re sick don’t keep it to themselves. They spread it around, through offices and restaurants and schools.

That’s part of the reason why three other states, including California, have paid sick leave laws. The idea has spread to cities, including Portland, where it’s been the law since the beginning of last year. We don’t hear about abuse, and the burden doesn’t seem intolerable.

A few days a year of paid sick leave, often not used, recognizes the dignity of low-income workers, and their effort to keep themselves and their families afloat. It also works to avoid contagion spreading out to many other people, with effects both economic, and epidemiological.

Because nobody really wants a side of infection with their eggs.

NOTE: This commentary appeared von KGW-TV,2/7/15.

09 Feb

Kitzhaber press conference gets him in deeper

Sometime around the middle of Gov. John Kitzhaber’s Friday press conference on Cylvia Hayes’ mounting troubles, Oregon achieved what might be the most ironic explanation in the history of political scandal.

The governor explained that Hayes was not available to answer questions about potential conflict of interest in her roles as private consultant and governor’s policy advisor, ab
out income that did not appear on her required public disclosure forms, and about six figures of income that may not have appeared on her federal tax returns, because she was attending an international conference on happiness.

That better be quite a conference.

At Kitzhaber’s questioning, happiness was as scarce as clarity.

During his last term, the governor explained, Hayes operated in “a gray area,” working out of his office yet taking private clients, filling what he called “this undefined role as first lady.” Yes, some of the issues that she was paid to advance overlapped with issues that concerned him as governor, but Kitzhaber insisted he and Hayes carefully tried to draw lines.

Meanwhile, uncertainty abounded. The governor said he wasn’t sure that the first lady was part of his legal household, although it seems they do have the same legal counsel – which is not, he said firmly, criminal counsel.

During the closing days of his campaign for re-election last fall, Kitzhaber dealt with the emerging issue of Hayes’ private consulting by saying that in his next term she would have no private business. Friday, he said that in this term she would have no public role.

If both these pledges hold – unless one cancels the other – Hayes could have a long and boring four years.

Right now, of course, boredom is the least of her problems. The news last week, from EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group, of an unannounced $118,000 in payments from the Clean Economy Development Center in Washington, D.C., appeared to raise the stakes dramatically. The money was not mentioned on her federal tax returns released to the public.

This raises the possibility of problems for Hayes far beyond the capacity of the Oregon Ethics Commission, the focus up to now. The Internal Revenue Service has very little sense of humor about large amounts of unreported income, and the power to involve people with black robes and gavels.

An alternative explanation might be different tax returns going to the IRS and the public, a development that would carry its own complications.

To a question about it, Kitzhaber said, “Clearly those are very serious allegations and apply specifically to her tax returns,” adding, “I have nothing to say on the issue of Cylvia’s taxes.”

Although Kitzhaber and Hayes have the same lawyers, maybe they don’t have the same accountant.
Five minutes into the press conference, Kitzhaber was asked if he was considering resigning – never a good question to be asked, even if your answer is no. He was also asked if there was any difference between him and former Virginia Gov. Jim McDonnell, who with his own first lady was recently convicted on multiple counts of corruption and sentenced to two years.

That question was considerably easier to answer. McDonnell received a Rolex, a Cape Cod vacation, catering at his daughter’s wedding, golf trips and $2,500 in Louis XIII cognac, and in exchange he hosted events for the businessman involved at the governor’s mansion and sent helpful notes to state officials. There’s no sign of Kitzhaber doing any of that.

And at last Friday’s press conference, there was no sign of Kitzhaber ever having that good a time.

But if the press conference was all about uncertainty and questions – and gray areas – it provided few signposts to answers, or realization that Oregon still deserved some.

By the end, Kitzhaber was saying that only Hayes could answer the questions he was getting, but refused to say that she would.

She was, after all, “an independent woman. She doesn’t work for the state of Oregon. If Cylvia Hayes wants to talk to the press, she’ll get in touch with you.”

In a press conference that provided few answers, this rare answer was wrong.

Even if Hayes wasn’t on the state payroll, she was working out of the governor’s office and using the title of first lady. As Hayes herself showed in her tearful October press conference about her sham marriage, someone in her position needs to show up and explain things in public.
We’re a long way from decisions based on what anybody wants.

About as far as we are from happiness.

NOTE: This column appeared in The Oregonian, 2/4/15.